Covenant Concern for Our Children

Text: Proverbs 4:1-4

Sermon preached June 6, 1993 A.M.

Loveland, Colorado

Scripture reading: Proverbs 4

Rev. Ronald Cammenga

There are two dangers that threaten the godly upbringing of our children. There is the danger that parents be unconcerned about their children. Certainly this is true of the world today. The world of our day has really no great or compelling concern for the children. This shows itself certainly in the widespread neglect and abuse of children, the violence that is perpetrated against children. Certainly this is indicated by the heartless murder today of tens of thousands of children by their parents before they ever see the light of day. Without question, this sad unconcern is also in evidence among the children of the world in the rampant divorce of husbands and wives today. Always the result of divorce is that children are caused untold pain. There is lifelong suffering, consequences for the rest of their earthly life, that children experience because of this unconcern for them by their divorcing parents.

Sad to say, this neglect also manifests itself in the church of our day-not only in neglect of parental responsibilities for the upbringing of children, but also in the widespread divorcing of parents even within the church. It comes to it today that the divorce rate among evangelical Christians, those who at the very least profess that they are Christians, is really the same as it is in the world.

There is a second danger that threatens the upbringing of our children. That other danger is that, although parents show a concern for their children, that concern is not the kind of concern that Solomon speaks of in the word of our text for this morning. There is a concern there. There is an interest on the part of parents for their children; but it is a concern and an interest for their children that extends almost exclusively to the earthly life of those children, to their circumstances in the world, their physical and material well being. They are concerned that their children are well fed and well adjusted socially and psychologically. They are concerned for the health of their children. They are concerned that their children maintain a good appearance in the world and that they are well educated and have a good career and that they marry well and are successful as the world counts success. But their concern extends very little beyond this. It is not the deep, the spiritual, the covenant concern of the parents in the words of our text this morning.

The father of Proverbs 4 shows that, by the grace of God, he has avoided both of these dangers. He shows in the text the deep concern that he has for his son, a concern that is not a concern exclusively for the physical and material well-being of his son, but a concern that extends to the spiritual well being of his son. A concern for him not only with respect to his body, but with respect to his spirit. A concern not simply that his son be successful in the world, but a concern that his son keep the commandments of God and live.

This is the concern of covenant parents. This is the concern of all covenant parents. By your presenting your children for baptism this morning, you express that this is your concern for your children.

I call your attention to:

Covenant Concern for Our Children

  1. I. Of Whom This Is the Concern?
  2. II. How This Concern Is Expressed
  3. III. How God Rewards This Concern on the Part of Covenant Parents for Their Children

Of Whom Is This Concern

It comes out in this passage, without question, what is the concern that these parents have for their children. The concern of the text is not the ordinary and natural affection that even earthly, altogether worldly, parents have for their children, or even that can be found on the part of animals for their offspring - a natural sort of attraction, a natural tendency to protect one's offspring. There is that natural affection. And there certainly ought to be that kind of affection, also on the part of believing parents. And, all things considered, that certainly is the case with respect to believing parents. The affection that is expressed in the third verse of the chapter includes certainly even natural affection for their children. "For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother."

The Scriptures elsewhere teach that one of the outstanding signs of the end times is going to be that even this natural affection that parents have for their children and that children have for their parents is going to be transgressed. It is bad enough that all that there is between them is this natural affection, that it does not go beyond that, is not any deeper than that. It is bad enough that their affection for each other is not an affection for each other for God's sake. But what is even worse is that even that natural affection disappears. We see that happening in the world today. That teaches us, certainly, that we live in the last days. We see in the world today that even the natural affection between men and women is transgressed by the outstanding evil of homosexuality. We see that the natural affection of parents towards their children is transgressed. What other explanation can there be for the untold multitudes of abortion that take place daily in our country? What other explanation can there be for the physical violence and sexual abuse perpetrated against children? What other explanation can there be for all of those young people who turn against their parents in open defiance and rebellion? What other explanation can there be for those men and women who in later life turn their backs on aging parents never to see them, to visit them, or to take any active interest in their care? The explanation is that even that natural affection disappears.

There is that natural affection between parents and children in the church. The spirit of Jesus Christ sanctifies what is a purely natural affection so that that natural affection becomes deeper, richer. It becomes a spiritual love of believing parents for their sons and their daughters; a love of their children for God's sake; a love of their children as the children of God; a love for their children that aims not just at their physical good, but ultimately at the spiritual and eternal well being of those children.

This concern for their children on the part of believing parents is a covenant concern and is due to the covenant of God. Parents have this concern for their children because God has revealed it to be His will to gather His church out of the children of believers. It is the good pleasure of God to save His people in the world by saving them in the line of their generations. It is the will of God to save believers and their children, and their grandchildren, their children's children, in the line of continued generations. That is God's covenant. And that is the covenant promise of God.

God showed that already in the Old Testament, very early on. Recall His revelation to father Abraham in Genesis 17:7 with respect to His covenant: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee (there is not a period there! But the text goes on) and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." That is the covenant of God. That is what the Scriptures mean by God's covenant: God's will and promise to save His people successively, in the line of continued generations. This is the reason God said to Abraham in Genesis 17, you must circumcise your children as a sign and seal of this covenant promise of mine. And for this very reason we, as believers in the New Testament, baptize our children. The ground for our baptism of them as infants is the covenant of God, by virtue of which covenant they are included in the salvation and church of God.

Now the covenantal nature of the parents of the text this morning comes out clearly in the passage. The father who has this concern and is presently teaching his own son says about himself in verse 3: "For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother." His father before him had had this very same concern that now he has for his son. There is a succession there. There is a passing on from father to son to grandson. And that is the covenant way of God. God is at work in grandfather, in father, and in grandson.

This covenantal concern that these parents have is a concern in which the father is prominent. That is plain from the entire text. "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father," he says. He goes on in verses 2 and 3 to say, "For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my father's son." And in verse 4: "He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live." The father stands on the foreground here. This covenantal concern is the concern pre-eminently of the father. There is a reason for that. The reason for that is not that old Israel was a patriarchal society, a male dominated culture, so that the husband and father stood naturally on the foreground. The explanation is not that Israel was so under-developed that at that time they had not yet arrived at the modern conception of things, they had not come to the enlightenment that has characterized our age and our society, the enlightenment that teaches that, after all, there is no difference and no distinction of position either in marriage or in the family between man and woman. Men and women stand on exactly the same footing and have exactly the same position. That, I say, is not the explanation for the prominence of the father in the teaching of the text.

But the reason for this prominence is the revealed will of God that husband and father is the head of his marriage and family. That is the reason. God has made the husband to be head. That headship implies his responsibility in his marriage and in his family. That headship implies the position of authority that he has in his family over his wife and over his children. That headship implies that, before God, it is the husband/father first of all who is responsible. It is not going to be to your wives in the Judgment Day that God is going to ask how things went in your family life and how things went in your marriage. He is going to ask you first, because you, as head, are responsible and accountable to Him.

We express that in our Reformed practice of infant baptism. There is an aspect of the ceremony of baptism that will be witnessed in the congregation in a few moments that will give expression to this headship of the father. That is the practice that we have of the father presenting his child for baptism. It is not just because the father is stronger, so that his arms will not become as tired holding that baby the few moments it takes for that infant to be baptized. That is not the explanation. The explanation is the headship of the father. Because of his position, he presents the child for baptism.

Defenders of the feminist movement reject and attack the headship of the husband and of the father. They are openly rebelling against the revealed will of God. This is God's will in the Christian family. You understand that. It is God's will for the Christian family that there shall be a father, a responsible head, a man of God who stands at the head of his family. This is to a great extent the explanation for the terrible condition of the youth in our society today - something that we need to warn ourselves against, also, in the church. It was not so long ago that I read some very troubling statistics about what the children of this world are referring to as unconventional homes. They were referring especially to the homes in which there is not a father, no father figure, as they say, predominantly single mothers. Even the world is alarmed by the great number of families in which this is the situation. Even the world is troubled by the result of this sort of situation for the upbringing of children, results with respect to the children not only as children and as young people, but also in later years. Having themselves had no father or father-figure in the home, they are unable later on to take their position as husband and father in a home of their own. That is a troubling circumstance.

That happens in the church, too. It happens in the church, of course, because it is sometimes God's will to take a man away from his wife, to remove him from her side. That happens, too, in the church as a result of the sinfulness of the people of God themselves - young women who fall into the sin of fornication. Under those circumstances there is a special and urgent need for the help of God. The women in the church who find themselves in that situation must be urgent, seeking the throne of grace for God's grace to bring their children up in these difficult and very trying circumstances. But ordinarily it is the will of God for His people that there be in their homes and in their family life a head, a husband, a father.

Although the father is prominent in the passage, this does not leave out of view the significant role of the mother. There is a very beautiful reference in the passage to the role of the mother, too. You noticed that undoubtedly when we read the passage. The third verse: "For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother." As much as it is the will of God that there be a father in the covenant home, it of course is the will of God too that there be a mother there. The mother's role is as significant and important as that of the father (if anything, more important, more significant). Certainly that is also recognized in the Reformed practice for baptism. Undoubtedly it is the case that the father presents his child for baptism. But he does not participate in this ceremony all by himself. He is not the only one to stand up and to answer the questions. His wife stands up at his side and answers the questions with him. They come up here on the platform together for the baptism of the child.

We know from the history the important place that Solomon's mother (Solomon is the human writer here), Bathsheba, played in his own upbringing. There are several references to that in the books of Kings and Chronicles. We have not the time to notice them this morning. I only point out to you that in the course of the history, at one point, when Solomon's brother was planning to usurp the kingship for himself as soon as his aged father should die, it was his mother who stepped in. Bathsheba interceded on behalf of her son and went to king David and insisted to David that God had designated Solomon her son as David's successor on the throne of Israel.

It is especially his mother's tender love that Solomon recalls here, looking back on the days of his own childhood. "Tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother." That is characteristic of the mother. That is the significant role that the mother plays in the bringing up of her children. That is the special ingredient that a God-fearing mother adds to the family life - the tender, compassionate love that only a mother can give, and a lavishing of that love upon her children. The text emphasizes the nature of that love. The text emphasizes the intensity of that love. "Tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother," Solomon says. We know, as a matter of fact, that that was not the case. We know, as a matter of fact, that Solomon was not the only son of his mother Bathsheba. We know from the history that Solomon was one of a number of sons that she bore to David. And we may believe, although they are not mentioned, that there were daughters as well. There were other children in the family in which Solomon grew up. But Solomon remembers the love of his mother as a love bestowed on him as if he were the only son of his mother. So greatly did she love him and to such an extent did she lavish that love upon him.

That is the kind of love that the mothers in the congregation ought to show to their children (and the fathers, of course, are included there as well). It does not matter how many children you may have. You may have a number of children, but you love every one of those children. You love every one of those children as if that child were your only child. No partiality, no favoritism, no loving of one less and of another more; but a loving of them all equally, and a loving of them all intensely.

The importance of this role of the believing mother cannot be overstated this morning. I wonder sometimes what those men and women are going to say when they have grown up and look back upon their childhood as Solomon is looking back upon his childhood here and recall the childhood in which their mother did not show them this tender love, did not lavish this love upon them and make her children feel her love for them, or those mothers who sacrificed their own children to their careers, who were never or hardly ever around their children when those children were little and were in need of their mothers, needed that tender love that only a mother can give. I wonder what unhealable damage, mental and spiritual, is done to children even in the church because of this kind of neglect by mother. They are not carrying out this indispensable calling that mothers have in the rearing of their children.

How This Concern Is Expressed

This is the concern. But how is it expressed?

The text not only calls believing parents to a covenant concern for their children, but the text is clear as well with respect to how this concern must show itself towards their children.

Covenant concern for our children expresses itself in one outstanding way. That one outstanding way is the instruction of our children. Not letting them have their way every time. They want their way. It is not giving them everything that they desire to have. Covenant concern, genuine love, on the part of covenant parents is shown to their children by instructing their children.

That is clearly the teaching of the text. That is how the text opens up: "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father." And that is how the passage also concludes, verse 4: "He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words." God is a covenant God. But the way of God's covenant is the way of faithful instruction. Never forget that, parents. Teaching! That is the way that God continues His covenant from one generation to the next. Teaching is the means that God is pleased to use for the gathering unto Himself of His children out of our children. We place the emphasis on teaching.

The nature and the content of this instruction makes all the difference in the world. It is not enough that parents merely have a concern for their children. It is not enough that that concern expresses itself even in the instruction of those children. But what is crucial is that that instruction be the instruction that under the will of God it is supposed to be. Solomon does not leave us in any question in the passage with respect to the content of that instruction.

According to verse 1 he is going to teach his children to know understanding. "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding." That is an outstanding word in the book of Proverbs, "understanding." The emphasis in the book of Proverbs is not on understanding merely in a physical and mental sort of way - understanding that two plus two equals four, understanding the causes behind the Revolutionary War here in our country - but the emphasis in the book of Proverbs is on understanding from a spiritual point of view. Spiritual understanding is what he has in mind here. If we ask what that is, what spiritual understanding consists of, we find that Solomon answers that question throughout the book. He gives answer to that question, for example, in Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." Understanding is the knowledge of the holy. Understanding is to know the holy God, to know God as the God that He is, to know God as the holy God, the God who is dedicated to Himself, the God who is interested in His own glory and who will have His glory, the God who as the holy God calls us who are His children also to be consecrated to Him in obedience and in gratitude.

That is the instruction that parents must give to their children: teach them the great God, teach them the holiness of God, teach them their calling as God's children to serve Him in every aspect of their earthly life. The instruction of this father includes, of course, the instruction of his children in the Savior, Jesus Christ. For the way of understanding is understanding the way of the deliverance of us and our children from our sins in the cross and blood of Christ. In Proverbs 8, the great passage in the book of Proverbs that is Messianic, wisdom is personified, wisdom speaks and asks, wisdom is Jesus Christ, wisdom is involved in the creation of the world in the beginning and in all of the other great activities of the godhead. Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is Jesus. In Proverbs 8:14 we read, "Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding." Jesus Christ is understanding. There cannot be any understanding, any understanding of ourselves, any understanding of our relationship to God, any understanding of our calling in the world apart from Jesus Christ.

Teach your children the Savior, the forgiveness of their sins, in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Instruction of this father, besides being instruction characterized as understanding - causing his children to understand - is described in the second verse as good doctrine. "For I give you good doctrine."

What is that? First of all, that refers to words of instruction. That is the outstanding thing here. Everything else is implied, certainly - the example, the discipline. But it all begins and it all focuses in the words of instruction that parents give to their children. That is why he says also in verse 4 to his son, "Let thine heart retain my words." Teach them the truth, propositional truth. Teach them this truth, this doctrine, that in six days God created all things in the beginning. Teach them this truth, these words: On account of our own disobedience we have fallen into sin. Teach them our depravity by nature and by virtue of our physical birth. Teach them the cross and atonement of Jesus Christ. Teach them every doctrine contained in holy Scripture.

But make sure that that doctrine that you teach them is good doctrine, that it is the truth. That is what the meaning is when Solomon says, "good doctrine." That is the calling of covenant parents. That is the calling that pertains to every aspect of our instruction of our children. In the home, you be sure that those children are taught the truth. In the church, you be sure that they are taught the truth. This controls the matter of church membership. Parents must take seriously here their responsibility to be members of the church, and to be members of that church in the world that is faithful to the Scriptures and is a true congregation of Jesus Christ.

What comes out here as well, if it is to be good doctrine that we are to give to our children, is the responsibility that believing parents have for Christian education. This is the motivation behind Christian education. This is why we have our Christian grade schools. This is why Reformed believers have always been concerned for the Christian education of their children, as the Reformed church order bears out. The calling of believing parents is to see to it that the doctrines with which their children are indoctrinated are good doctrines. You cannot expect that from the public schools. Public schools are not willing to give that good doctrine to your children; the public schools are not able to give that kind of good doctrine. Worse than that, we know very well today that conditions in the public schools are that all kinds of bad doctrine, false teachings, are not only brought to the children, but are indoctrinated into them.

That the instruction of our children is to be instruction in good doctrine does not mean that this instruction is to be merely abstract, dogmatic, theological propositions that are accurate in the light of the revelation of holy Scripture, but that have really no application to everyday life in the world. Not at all. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Anybody who is acquainted with the book of Proverbs knows that that is not the kind of doctrine that the book of Proverbs itself sets forth and that Solomon gives to his son. You must not think of doctrine in that way, that it is merely abstract, theoretical, and dogmatic.

This is doctrine: the parent teaches his son not to be a drunkard. This belongs to the good doctrine that covenant parents must give their children: that they avoid relationships with the children of this world and do not establish friendships with unbelievers - a thing that the book of Proverbs refers to over and over again. This belongs to the good doctrine that parents give their children: that they teach their children good stewardship and responsibility with respect to the earthly things that God has given to them; that they teach their children to work at a job and not to be sluggards; that they teach their children to avoid fornication; that they teach their children to guard their tongues and not to speak blasphemously. All of these things that bear on the practical life of our children in the world belong to the good doctrine, to the instruction, that we believing parents are to give to our children.

That is why in the text reference is made to the law and commandments of God, where the practical things are exhorted upon the children.

This instruction of the child is to be taught not simply as something that the child is to believe; but it is to be taught as something that parents who give this instruction to their children themselves believe, something that they themselves are thoroughly convinced of.

Look at that in the text. There is something striking about the language of the text: "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law," he says. And later on he says, with respect to his father in verse 4, "He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live." The reference in the text, unquestionably, is to God's law, to God's Word, and to God's commandments. But he does not say that. He says, "My words … my law … my commandments." There is a reason for that. The reason was that this father was himself thoroughly convinced of the truth of the Word of God. This father himself was committed to a life of obedience to God's commandments. This father himself, as far as his own life in the world was concerned, lived that life in obedience to the law of God. That is fundamental to covenant child-rearing.

There really cannot be any bringing up of our children in the fear of God apart from that. There cannot be any right rearing of your children if you only speak these things to your children, no matter how earnestly, but you yourselves are not personally convinced of these things, do not yourselves live a life of obedience to the law of God in which you instruct your children. Instruction out of personal conviction and commitment is the proper expression of covenant concern for our children. In the end, that is the only kind of instruction of them that is going to be blessed by God.

How God Rewards This Concern

But that kind of instruction is blessed by God, is rewarded greatly. It is rewarded in this, according to the text, that children heed the instruction and live. That does not mean that every single child of believing parents heeds the instruction that his parents give him and walk in the way of God. Both Scripture and experience indicate otherwise. Always there are those children who will not heed the good instruction of their parents, who reject the good doctrine that they give them. Ultimately, of course, the explanation for that is the sovereign decree of God's reprobation that runs even through the lines of the generations of believers. The promise of God, the covenant promise to save our children, is not the promise to save every one of our children. But it is the promise of God to save our children in the line of generations who are the elect children of God. It is the promise to save His children among ours.

Neither is it the promise of God and the reward of God to save the children altogether apart from us parents, our faithfully carrying out our calling to instruct our children. For the fact of the matter is that God judges the neglect and the unfaithfulness even of believing parents. The outstanding example of that in the Old Testament Scriptures is Eli. But even Solomon himself had to experience that in his own life. His own wickedness at the end of his life, his own neglect, led to great trouble in his own family, so that his son and successor, Rehoboam, was unbelieving and idolatrous.

But God does reward believing parents who take seriously their covenant responsibility and, under the grace of God, exert themselves to carry them out. God blesses their concern for their children, and God blesses the efforts that they put forth in the instruction of those children.

That blessing and reward of God is first that our children keep His Word in their hearts. God binds the instruction of the parents to the hearts of the children, the regenerated hearts of the children, so that they receive the instruction, embrace it, already as children, and walk according to it, and retain it.

Just in that way the blessing and reward of God is also, Solomon says, that they live, they live now already, they live what is truly a happy life, under the blessing and peace of God. They are spared the misery, the anguish, the trouble of those who reject the instruction of their parents and give themselves over to worldliness and to unbelief. And they live, especially, eternally hereafter.

You want this for your children, do you not? You parents who present your children for baptism this morning, you want your children to live, to live eternally, to live with you in heaven. You have this covenant concern for your son, for your daughter. Be faithful to carry out your responsibility before God to give them good instruction. Amen.

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